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Evening markets: grain prices soar on China, Russia moves

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Soft commodity and grain markets diverged on Tuesday. And how.

Softs trader Jurgens Bauer summed up the mood in New York, and indeed on markets for many risk assets, in this ditty:

"Ten years ago we had Bob Hope, Johnny Cash and Steve Jobs. Now we have no hope, no cash and no jobs."



fell 1.3% to 25.94 cents a pound in New York, and


1.3% to 223.40 cents a pound, as worries returned about eurozone and Chinese economies, evident in a revival, if only a small one, in the safe haven of the


, and slight pullbacks in


markets too.


, which is particularly depending on Chinese buying


tumbled nearly 3% on reports that Central Huijin Investment, part of China's sovereign wealth fund, was buying shares in the country's banks - seen as a defensive move rather than a simple bet on capital gains.

China rumours, again

With the likes of




, and increasingly


, also big Chinese imports, these might have been expected to follow copper.

Not a bit of it. China is rumoured to have been a buyer of crops, in the US, too.

(OK not of cotton, which added a modest 0.3% to 100.73 cents a pound in New York, for December delivery.)

But of soybeans, well, some big numbers were being mentioned. Take your pick.

'Would be big'

US Commodities talked of "seven-to-eight" cargoes.

Tuesday's grain prices at close

Chicago wheat: $6.60 ¾ a bushel, +8.1%

Chicago corn: $6.45 ½ a bushel, +6.6%

Chicago soybeans: 12.35 ½ a bushel, +4.9%

Paris wheat: E191.75 a tonne, +4.2%

London wheat: £151.00 a tonne, +2.5%

"The way the market is acting, we feel it is probably more than the six-to-eight rumoured," he added.

Indeed, at Macquarie Securities, Alex Bos heard rumours of purchases of 2m-3m tonnes.

"That would be big," Mr Bos said. No kidding. At 50,000-60,000 tonnes a Panamax load, it is more like 30 cargoes or more.

"It's all speculation at the moment. We would need to see this turn up in official US export statistics" for confirmation.

But investors were not waiting, sending soybeans for November up 5.8% at one stage before the lot eased to close at $12.35 a bushel, up 4.9% on the day.

'Starting to see value'

There were rumours of Chinese buying of US corn too, although these were (even) more nebulous.

But the theme that prices had got too cheap after September's sell-off nonetheless gained root.

"People are starting to see value at these levels," Mr Bos said.

"Corn ethanol margins are much improved from two or three weeks ago. US export competitiveness is much improved."

In short, corn emerged from the cloud of macro-economic selling to trade more on fundamentals, which many investors believe will be proven still tight in a flagship monthly US Department of Agriculture crop report due on Wednesday.

Early on, Darren Dohme at Powerline Group attributed "fire" in grain markets to "ideas of lower yields and production ahead of tomorrow's key USDA report".

'Major stress'

But what pushed corn finally to lock limit up was the announcement by Russia that it might impose grain export levies.

That's not a matter for the crop itself, of which Russia is typically a net importer.

But it put a spring in the stride of fellow grain


, which was also gaining some support from ideas that rains on the southern US Plains had not resolved all the problems of drought-hit hard red winter wheat farmers.

"Recent rains across the southern Plains are not enough to offer hard red winter wheat a firm roothold heading into hibernation," Chicago trader Matthew Pierce said.

"There is major stress in all major areas of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

"Nebraska, Missouri and California are in good shape." But decent Texas and Oklahoma crops are needed to get blends up to "12.5% protein levels".

Soaring prices

Wheat for December delivery ended up 6.4% at $7.29 ¾ a bushel in Kansas, where the hard red winter variety is traded, and soared 8.1% to $6.60 ¾ a bushel in Chicago. (Which trades soft red winter wheat.)

Chicago corn for December closed up the daily limit of 6.6% at $6.45 a bushel.

Which means its limit for Wednesday, when investors will be trading the USDA report, will be increased to $0.60 a bushel.

"Good luck everyone tomorrow," Mr Pierce said.


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